Contrary to Gillick: British children and sexual rights since 1985

Pilcher, J. ORCID: 0000-0002-1864-1362, 1997. Contrary to Gillick: British children and sexual rights since 1985. International Journal of Children's Rights, 5 (3), pp. 299-317. ISSN 0927-5568

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In this article, I examine models of childhood constructed within ‘moraleruptions’ over an area of particular concern for the New Right: the ‘prema-ture’ or ‘inappropriate’ exposure of children to sexuality. Western ideologies around sexuality and childhood mean that the pairing of ‘children’ with ‘sex’ is morally inappropriate: children are asexual, innocent and pure (seeJackson1982; Ennew 1986). This perspective is expressed particularly strongly bythe moral conservative right in British politics and was especially evidentin the heightened public debates over the issue of children and sex duringthe 1980s and 1990s. These included: the provision of contraceptive services to girls under the age of 16, which led to the 1985 Gillick Judgement; local authorities ‘promoting homosexuality’ to children at the ‘ratepayers’expense’, which led to Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988; thecontent of school sex education, legislated for in the Education Acts of 1986and 1993; the access of children to pornography via computers, investigated by a parliamentary Home Affairs Committee in 1994; and the lowering of the age of consent for homosexuals (to 18) in 1994. My focus in this article is on two of these controversies, namely, the provision of contraceptive services to girls under the age of 16 and the content of sex education. Public debatesand subsequent policies resulting from these controversies are examined andthe conceptions of childhood rehearsed and promoted within them are iden-tified. The 1985 Gillick Judgement on contraceptive services to the under16s is argued to be a landmark case in its potential effects for furthering thesexual autonomy rights of children, via the conception of childhood it pro-moted. However, my analysis of policy on sex education shows that, despitethe Gillick Judgement, British moral conservatives were largely successfulin limiting children’s sexual rights and (re)establishing the rights of parentsto control this area of children’s lives, in line with their conceptions of a‘traditional’ and ‘proper’ childhood. Consequently, in the late 1990s, British policy on children and sex remains dominated by discourses of welfare and protectionism and a model of childhood which reinforces ‘orderly’ power relations between the generations

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: International Journal of Children's Rights
Creators: Pilcher, J.
Publisher: Brill
Date: 1997
Volume: 5
Number: 3
ISSN: 0927-5568
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 12 Jan 2023 09:19
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2023 09:19

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